A Hong Kong court on Wednesday heard appeal applications from jailed activist Edward Leung and two other defendants in a case related to the 2016 Mong Kok unrest.
The hearing drew over a hundred supporters, who showed up at the High Court chanting “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our time” – a slogan first used in 2016 by Leung, later popularised in the 2019 pro-democracy movement.
Leung, 28, was asking for the court’s permission to appeal his six-year jail term, which was handed down last year after he was convicted of rioting. In a change of plans, Leung’s lawyer said the activist was only now seeking to appeal his sentence, not his conviction.
Appeal court judges Jeremy Poon, Carlye Chu and Derek Pang said they would reserve their judgment for a later date.
The Mong Kok unrest took place during February 8 and 9 in 2016 – the first two days of the Lunar New Year. It was triggered by the authorities’ attempts to clear street hawkers, which escalated into a bloody clash between police and protesters.
Barrister Lawrence Lok, representing Leung, said that the first instance judge handed down an excessive jail term because she “considered unrelated facts.” Despite Leung being convicted of only one rioting charge, the judge – in her sentencing calculations – took into account another charge of which Leung had been cleared, he said.
“If the [Portland Street rioting charge] is not established, then he should not be punished for it,” Lok said, adding that Leung should only accept criminal liability for his own actions.
Lok also said that Leung was indirectly held responsible for a fire lit on Fife street, despite the incident taking place 10 minutes after Leung’s arrest. The trial judge was also wrong to conclude that Leung’s actions were premeditated just because he had a helmet, mask and goggles, Lok added.
In response, the Director of Public Prosecutions David Leung argued that the court’s sentencing should consider the wider “background” of the events.
“Rioting is not just about the lawbreaking behaviour of one person. It is about the whole incident, the number of people involved, the level and scale of the violence, and the incidents that took place before and after a defendant was arrested,” Leung said.
In the same court case, Lo Kin-man, 32, was jailed for seven years for one count of rioting, while the 28-year-old Wong Ka-kui was handed three and a half years in jail after admitting to one count of rioting.
On Wednesday, Lo was asking for permission to appeal both his conviction and sentence, while Wong filed an application to appeal his sentence.
Leung a ‘spiritual leader’
The High Court on Wednesday saw rare scenes of people queueing up as early as 6am to gain admission to the hearing. Supporters also gathered outside the building’s vehiclular entrance to greet Leung as he arrived and left in a prison van.
Large, masked crowds were spotted outside the courthouse, chanting slogans and singing Eighteen – a song which Leung sang in the documentary Lost in the Fumes. A banner reading “Revolt” was also unfurled near the High Court’s sign on the building’s facade.
Despite Leung being jailed before the 2019 pro-democracy movement started, many have come to see him as a figurehead. Last week, a crowdfunding campaign to raise HK$350,000 for Leung’s appeal reached its goal within 15 minutes of being launched.
In a letter written from jail in July, Leung said protesters changed the course of Hong Kong’s history and wished them well.
“I urge you not to be controlled by hatred, but to remain alert and keep thinking in these dangerous times,” he wrote. “When those who were meant to solve society’s problems choose to ignore them… what we need is not for us to go against them with our precious lives, but instead in our suffering practice perseverance and hope.”
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